More Evidence that California Compares Favorably to Other HSR Routes

May 28th, 2011 | Posted by

One of the common arguments against high speed rail in California is that the state doesn’t have enough population or population density to support high speed trains. This stems from a flawed application of common arguments about urban rail systems, where you usually do want to route light rail, streetcars, and subways along dense corridors, to intercity rail. With intercity rail, what you really need is large populations, period.

But this argument also flaws from a false understanding of the evidence. The assumption here is that high speed rail in Europe is a success because of much greater populations and population densities. But the evidence shows that California compares well on population density, and compares even better on overall population along the route than some of the most popular European HSR systems.

Nearly three years ago, Matt Melzer provided stats comparing California to Spain:

California has about the same population density as Spain, is richer than spain, and although it’s not described here, California’s geography is very similar to that of Spain (their landscapes even look alike).

But we can now add more data. Yesterday Tim De Chant at Per Square Mile provided a map showing that parts of the US match up well with Europe on density:

You can see that the Amtrak Northeast Corridor, which operates a profitable highish-speed rail service, matches well with France, Germany, even the Low Countries.

In terms of raw population, California is actually even better than some of the prominent European HSR routes. After reading the Sacramento Bee’s excellent pro-HSR editorial and their graphic comparing California HSR to LGV Sud Est from last weekend, the blogger Burrito Justice decided to make a similar map comparing California HSR to both LGV Sud Est and the Madrid-Barcelona AVE:

Once again, the evidence suggests California HSR has every chance of success.

UPDATE: Burrito Justice also has a map of densities along HSR routes, comparing California to Spain, France, and Japan. Worth a look!

  1. wu ming
    May 28th, 2011 at 11:54

    that density map would be even more impressive if it showed density by county or city limits, with a HSR route overlay. america is well suited for rail because many american cities were built on rail lines.

    Howard Reply:

    I agree that a county density map would be better for most places, I have seen them before for the USA; however, it does not work well in southern California where the big counties include both dense cities and large areas of unpopulated desert, like LA county. Therefore, I would like to see a map of California population density by zip code, census district, or city and unincorporated communities (census designated place). However, to make a comparable map of a European country one would need to find a comparable population statistic area.

    Burrito Justice Reply:

    Just made that map on Thursday!

    Clem Reply:

    Great maps, Burrito. Especially the bit about blob area proportional to population. Edward Tufte would be proud.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Hmmm, I wonder what similar maps for the 3-C operation in Ohio would look like, and perhaps Florida, too, maybe Chicago-St. Louis. . .and if you were to go into fantasy land, New York-Chicago (two big historic travel centers, and with a length just a bit longer that what is proposed for California) and Chicago-Denver (perhaps representing extreme limits, but also a possible fast travel market based on history, and possibly on current travel demand). . .

    I also wonder why this sort of graphic representation has not been used before. I know I wouldn’t have had the technical know-how to do it, but Amtrak, CAHSRA, the Florida and Wisconsin promoters, etc., should have been able to come up with this.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Unless they ban airplanes Denver is too far from other places to have HSR service. So is Salt Lake City.

    wu ming Reply:

    rapid rail between cheyenne or ft. collins to pueblo might not be a bad idea, though.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The cities along the Front Range are in the nice flat parts. HSR shouldn’t be all that much more expensive than upgraded conventional. but it’s not going to connect to anything. Denver is almost 500 miles from Salt Lake City and almost 600 miles from Kansas City.

    wu ming Reply:

    yeah, only way it gets connected to any east-west networks is out of strategic interests in electrified E-W corridors, not economic demand.

  2. Joey
    May 28th, 2011 at 12:38

    I would caution you against comparing the population densities of very large and diverse areas. What those numbers don’t reveal is that populations in, say, Spain are much more concentrated than in California (that is to say, our cities are very sprawling while Spain’s are usually rather compact).

    Keep in mind, I’m not saying that HSR won’t work in California, but we will have to face certain realities about the differences between how it operates in Europe and how it operates here (for instance, people are going to be driving rather than taking public transit to stations a lot more).

    Wad Reply:

    Overall population may be more relevant than population density, as the stations’ catch area would extend beyond walking or transit distance.

    The speed advantage of high-speed rail makes the catch area larger. This means more people will drive farther to a station if their travel speed is quick on the train.

    This is partly why LAX draws more than just the passengers from the city of Los Angeles — it’s the main airport for a third of California (by area). Since it has the most flights to the most places and often at lower prices, people come from far away to fly out of LAX.

    joe Reply:

    “Since it has the most flights to the most places and often at lower prices, people come from far away to fly out of LAX.”

    1st, LAX is the long haul airport. It’s got connections. Flights from Australian from Monterey connects via LAX. It pulls for global and cross continental connections.

    Wad, I disagree with the prior argument that LA is not dense or that citizens don’t use public transit – daily ridership is 1,401,117!

    Joey Reply:

    What’s LA’s transit modal share?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    6% excluding the Inland Empire, 5% including. Look it up on the Census Factfinder.

    Wad Reply:

    I wasn’t making the point that L.A.’s density is too low.

    I used LAX as an example of modal gravity. LAX certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on air travel from Southern California. There are also Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario, John Wayne and Lindbergh Field. Yet LAX gets more traffic than those other airports combined.

    It’s not just because of the transfers. It’s also because fliers get lower prices if they fly out of or into LAX. For a train/plane-competitive flight, say on Southwest, you get pretty low fares if you fly LAX-SFO. Change the permutations, like fly out of Burbank, and you pay much more.

    Same with national flights. You might pay more for a flight if you choose Long Beach or John Wayne if a similar flight is available at LAX.

    Some people want to pay the lowest ticket and will drive out to LAX rather than choose the airport closest to them.

  3. Joey
    May 28th, 2011 at 12:42

    Okay, here’s a fun fact. In spite of the fact that our geography is very similar to Spain’s, we’re planning to build HSR for 2-3 times the per-mile (or km) cost that they do.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    4, if costs hold. But, California has more complex (seismic) mountain crossings, so at least some factor greater than 1 is defensible.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The biggest problems created by seismicity are not found in mountains but in places where the soil reacts like jelly on a plate and multiplies oscillations. In Italy, you find 1000-year-old dry-stone sanctuaries still standing on rocky mountain passes while towns lower down the slopes have been repeatedly destroyed.

    wu ming Reply:

    train tracks (or tunnels) going across active transverse faults is different than just looking at structure stability, because of the potential to bend or break rails.

    Joey Reply:

    That doesn’t explain why our construction prices accrues open farmland are at least 1.5 times their average costs (mountain crossings and all).

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Perhaps their horrifically high unemployment rate, and the (presumably) lower cost of labor helps to explain?

    J. Wong Reply:

    Yeah, their labor costs don’t include health care since that’s provided by the government for them, but our labor costs must include a premium for our horrifically high-cost health care.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    I don’t know for Spain, but in France social security is not funded by the state. It’s jointly managed by employers and employed. Contrary to the US, there is only one system and contributions are compulsory. This makes French salary costs the highest in Europe although net salaries are lower than in some other countries like Germany. The average cost of a work hour for a French employer is $45 while it is only $40 in Germany, although Germans have higher pays than the French.
    The high cost of French health care is partly due to the French habit of consulting more than one doctor to have multiple opinions. Each will give a prescription for drugs most of which remain unused. A huge waste but Pfizer and Aventis are thriving. At the end of the visit the doctor usually asks: “is there anything you’d like me to add?” He generally adds tranquilizers, of which the French are the biggest European consumers.
    The only people for whom the state pays 100% of the cost are illegal immigrants. No figures are published as they might arouse racist feelings.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t know about 100%, but when I’m in France/Monaco, I get to see a doctor at the hospital for €21 per visit. And I do not have any private insurance valid outside the US, where, for the record, for the same visit the doctor would charge my insurance multiple hundreds of dollars.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    If you want free health care when you are in France you need an AME (Aide médicale d’Etat) card which is delivered, according to Wikipedia, to undocumented foreigners. You also have to pretend you don’t understand anything when asked about your nationality. As nobody knows which country you come from, there is nowhere you can be sent back to. That’s how many avoid “le charter”, that is: chartered planes on which the government sends illegals back home.
    Your €21 are now €23. If your visit costs more than that, social security will still give you only €23.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    When I visit, I’m there perfectly legally. My French may suck, but I can show them a German passport and give my parents’ address, which is local. And when I’m asked about insurance, I say I have none. By the standards of how much I have to pony up for health care in the US even with insurance, it’s free.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It can’t be labor costs; if it were, Chinese PPP-adjusted HSR costs wouldn’t be $40+ million per km.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No… but Spain has literally the lowest costs there. There’s a lot to learn from it, but you can call French or Belgian costs an acceptable value.

    wu ming Reply:

    i’d be willing to bet that property values in CA v. spain/france/belgium also has something to do with it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, land acquisition is not a very large part of the cost. The lion’s share of the cost is infrastructure: earthworks, grading, drainage, elevated structures, tunnels.

  4. J. Wong
    May 28th, 2011 at 12:53

    OT: Did you know that there is no direct way to get from the Millbrae station to SFO during the weekdays? Given that, it occurred to me that it would make more sense for San Bruno to be the transfer station for BART, Caltrain, SFO, and HSR. Plus given the engineering difficulties of HSR at Millbrae, maybe San Bruno would be easier.

    Pat Reply:

    Before the BART “connection” was built it was even easier to get to the airport. There were shuttle busses always waiting to pick up passengers and drop them off directly at their departure terminal.

    see: for the longer version.

    San Bruno was an alternative and much better connection point that would have had the SFO people mover + BART + Caltrain all linked together.

    Another alternative improvement would be replacing the stub BART-SFO line with an automated people mover. Probably could reuse most of the infrastructure. Maybe could even use a modified BART train without an operator.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, running an automated BART-to-SFO shuttle only is an excellent idea. I’ve suggested much the same in the past. I think a two- or three-car train that is modified with seats facing the aisle only would be the best solution. Coordinate its schedule with BART and Caltrain at Millbrae, and you have a winning operation, as long as you don’t blow it by overcharging for service. I think it would be a better use of the already-existing infrastructure than what they’re using it for right now.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The airport already has an automated transportation system, the people mover. Extend it to the HSR/Caltrain station.

    Peter Reply:

    Why? We already have the infrastructure in place for BART. The AirTrain would require the construction of new infrastructure. Given how much money has already been wasted on BART to SFO, it would be even more wasteful to construct all new infrastructure.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Get off the HSR train, wait around for BART, get off BART and then wait for the people mover to get to your terminal versus getting off HSR, wait for the people mover and then getting off at your terminal. If they don’t extend the people mover to the HSR station they’d be better off running shuttle buses.

    Peter Reply:

    BART’s tunnel narrows to only two tracks just after the tracks leave Millbrae. Extending the people mover through the tunnel would require single-tracking BART. An alternative would be to simply run AirTrain at-grade above BART. Any extension of the people mover would require replacement of the entire aerial structure, I’m guessing.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    There’s no reason for BART to run to Millbrae. Zero tracks. Not “only two tracks” is the correct answer. Zero platforms, not only three platforms (only one of which will ever be used, but all of which contributed handsomely to PBQD/Bechtel/Tutor-Saliba’s profits.). Zero “tail tracks” (with 80mph design speed), not four.

    Invite Quentin Kopp and Steve Heminger down for a special “tunnel inspection” VIP tour of what they have wrought and dynamite the portals. Then run Airtrain (or a goddamned BUS — it would be vastly cheaper and more convenient) in place.

    Two birds with one stone.

    Peter Reply:

    Ahh, there’s nothing like a BART-to-SFO discussion to bring on a Richard Rant.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Three birds. you increase frequency to SFO on BART because the trains don’t have to go to Millbre anymore.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The frequency south of SF is governed by demand, not splitting. If there were any point in running additional frequency to SFO, then more than half of the trains would continue south instead of turning at Daly City.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The frequency south of SF is governed by demand, not splitting

    It’s 98% governed by politics cum agency fig-leafing.

    8 trains per direction per hour to locations like South San Francisco and San Bruno BART isn’t based on ridership demand.

    Risenmessiah Reply:


    Milbrae ranks sixth for exits among BART stations that only serve one line (Note, I realize it’s not always the same line…) It’s seventh for entries. That’s in the top of half of all such stations (16).

    That’s not to say that politics isn’t a huge factor, it is, and is often the main factor. But I could take Richard’s same argument and suggest closing certain stations on route that have low ridership because it could increase speeds, Lafayette, Orinda, Castro Valley, Colma….etc….hell…West Oakland even.

    But nobody, I recall, has called for that. Now I can guess why, and its because most planners are forward looking and really are interested in building not being a shepherd.

    Winston Reply:

    The problem is that serving Milbrae creates real operational problems for the rest of the system. It really doesn’t make sense to run more than one line past Daily City based on the ridership that the stations generate. Unfortunately if you were to only run one train south of DC you would have to either serve only Milbrae or only SFO and run a shuttle to serve the other station or have an awkward turn-around the way BART does off peak. The way the line is built only makes sense IF you are planning on extending it much further down the peninsula (say all the way to Santa Clara) and even then it would have made more sense to run the line through SFO rather than building the branch and to have the transfer station with Caltrain elsewhere.

    joe Reply:

    “Invite Quentin Kopp and Steve Heminger down for a special “tunnel inspection” VIP tour of what they have wrought and dynamite the portals.”

    Worse – force those who decide and mange public transit to use the system they oversee.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    The way the line is built only makes sense IF you are planning on extending it much further down the peninsula (say all the way to Santa Clara) and even then it would have made more sense to run the line through SFO rather than building the branch and to have the transfer station with Caltrain elsewhere.

    Now yer cooking. Realistically BART doesn’t want people from their new, I mean, uh, proposed San Mateo line to choke off airport passengers from SF. Hence the two-line solution. But yeah for the moment, you have to wonder.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    There were plenty of better alternatives to go to SFO. has some of the much better alternative making SFO the stub end from BART. It would definitely have been better for those coming from downtown. Now if you could have connected Caltrain at San Bruno, it would have been fine and dandy and probably could have saved hundreds of millions.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But the San Bruno BART station is blocks away from the San Bruno Caltrain Station……

    J. Wong Reply:

    No, its being moved to I believe a 1/4 mile away, a 5 minute walk.

    Joey Reply:

    Still not exactly adjacent. And certainly not the kind of thing you want to do when you have luggage to worry about.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Well, if they design it right, they could put a moving sidewalk in, or something like that.

    Caelestor Reply:

    When you look at the ridership back in 2000, Millbrae and San Bruno had about the same ridership. Toay, Millbrae has about 6 times the ridership of SB, undoubtedly due to its BB stop status (why is it the express stop again?).

    Point is that BART should have just run to SFO direct with a connection at San Bruno to avoid wasting billions and splitting frequency. But no use dwelling on the past. The current situation could be rectified with an Airtrain connection, which I think will be necessitated by Millbrae HSR’s construction anyway.

    Off-topic but you should consider starting a forum to replace the comment section. A lot of conversations I see appear to be rehashed, and they could be sorted more easily if each topic was contained in its individual thread.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But then picking at the scabs of Altamont wouldn’t be possible. Or the scabs of BART to SFO. Or the scabs of Transbay. Or the scabs of the Bay Bridge and Transbay. If you are still around in 2050 dip into the foamer discussion boards. They will still be picking at the scabs of Altamont, BART to SFO and Transbay…… probably will be picking at them in 2111 too

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Robert has said “it must have a WordPress” plug-in to be used on the blog. Secondly, almost all blog have an advocacy purpose, and you can bet no change will diminish that ability.

    political_incorrectness Reply: Answer here, not sure how it would work though. Might want to test drive it on a test blog.

    brandon from San Diego Reply:

    I was having similar thoughts yesterday. What is needed is a message board that is similar to the Transit Coalition site.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    When you look at the ridership back in 2000, Millbrae and San Bruno had about the same ridership. Toay, Millbrae has about 6 times the ridership of SB, undoubtedly due to its BB stop status (why is it the express stop again?).

    You can see similar things up and down the peninsula.

    Caltrain’s “management” has chosen to simply abandon stations which were viable and heavily used (or insanely reduce stopping at Palo Alto!) largely on parking availability — even when the stations were heavily used as work/school destinations.

    California Avenue is a great example of this. Platform chock-full during dot-com with workers heading to and from Stanford Office Park and the vicinity, but now “served” by one train an house because, per Caltrain’s “planners”, the parking lot filled up at one stage so no point stopping there any more. Check out past ridership reports.

    San Bruno’s been jerked around so much it’s a wonder anybody bothers. Crazy disruptions and relocations during BART tunnel construction (fun fact: Caltrain was supposed to be grade separated as a joint project in San Bruno as part of the BART project, but BART’s contractors successfully demanded a vastly more expensive tunnel for BART alone), more crazy disruptions and station relocation today to do a cost-plus-plus-plus incompetent separate grade separation project, service barely clinging to 2tph today, and all through it a very strong institutional and political demand that San Bruno riders be “encouraged” to use the $2bn BART fiasco.

    Some Caltrain stations were never and never will be viable: Hayward Park, Atherton, College Park being the obvious examples. Others are in a death spiral with crap service leading to less ridership (not moving to other stations, but moving to the freeways) leading to crappier service.

    It didn’t and doesn’t have to be that way. But the agency would need to choose to employ anybody with a single functioning neuron. What are the odds?

    thatbruce Reply:

    Looks like Caltrain has yet another stupid com vs org website idiocy.

  5. Pat
    May 28th, 2011 at 13:10

    Good article, Robert. Nice to see something that isn’t a NIMBY tirade.

    Matthew B. Reply:

    Agreed. This blog needs more of these kinds of posts.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’m happy to post submissions from readers, if anyone wants to start putting more of this kind of thing together.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    We’ll see…

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    As long as there are NIMBYs tirading against the project, we’ll have to tirade against NIMBYs.

  6. D. P. Lubic
    May 28th, 2011 at 17:00

    Lovely, lovely, lovely!

    The evidence gets stronger all the time. About the only argument the naysayers can really make anymore–and it’s an argument that gets flimsier all the time–is the idea that Real Americans(tm) love their cars so much, they will never, ever even think of riding trains, because cars are Real America(tm).

    That may apply to the generations that came of age between 1950 and the first oil crunch of 1973, but it didn’t apply to those older, and it applies less and less to those younger. And as things stand right now, that all-pro-car, all-anti-rail generation is just getting old, now between 60 and 90. . .

    How much of the anti-rail (NIMBY) sentiment is real, how much of that is really phony paid stuff stirred up by the oil and car business people who see the writing on the wall, and of the part that is real, how old are the people expressing such disdain for rail? I don’t know about oil business participation in detail, but I do know the ant-rail crowd has plenty of grey hair.

    John Burrows Reply:

    For some of us this “love of our car” has cooled off over time. Got my drivers license in 1954 (On my 16th birthday) and it was like a “coming of age”, the most important event of my life up to that time. But now, after somewhere around 800,000 miles, I look upon driving anywhere as a necessary evil. As much as possible I limit driving to routes that I know, and under no circumstance would I drive in any congested area that I was not familiar with.

    Fortunately I live next door to Caltrain, VTA, and AMTRAK, a situation that often gives me the option of not driving—and a situation that I take advantage of as often as possible. George Will and company seem to think that high speed rail along with other forms of public transit will somehow take away our God given right to hop in the car and go wherever we please. For me public transit does just the opposite—I can still get behind the wheel and go wherever I please, But I now have a choice of not getting behind the wheel—Of leaving the car in the garage and taking the train. And this is a choice that I make more frequently as I get older.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I suspect George Will gets on a train more often than he admits.

    David Reply:

    “A few weeks back I commented on a George Will column in which he said that

    the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.
    So I think that it is my civic duty to report that yesterday, as I got off Amtrak 161 from Trenton to Washington — having spent 2 1/2 hours being made more amenable to collectivism, not to mention finishing another chapter for 3rd edition — I saw George Will leaving the business class car. (I usually prefer the coach quiet car.)”

  7. Emma
    May 28th, 2011 at 23:08

    If you lay the density map of California by county and the HSR map over each other, you’ll notice that we did the right thing. The way the system is designed, it will be accessible to at least 95% of all Californians.

    I wish every Californian could see these maps and stats. The facts speak for themselves. Californians need to see that NIMBYs are just a very tiny minority in the HSR debate.

    wu ming Reply:

    californians aren’t the issue here. the media needs to see those maps and stats, californians already voted for the project, and are mostly muddling along waiting for the damn thing to be built.

  8. Ben
    May 29th, 2011 at 01:58

    We´re actually in Spain now for vacation for a couple of days. My girlfriend and I took the Renfre train from Madrid to Toledo yesterday, a distance of about 45 miles and it took 30 minutes. The
    trains were beautiful Alstrom cars. I really hope the US gets its act together and we can one day hope to see a serious commitment to transportation and infrastructure.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    That works out to an average of 90 mph, excellent for such a short distance, and probably with a top speed of a relatively modest (by HSR standards) 130 to 140 mph.

    Of course, you can bet the naysayers and NIMBYs would make some crack about “stopping everywhere” and “averaging only (!) 90 mph”–hrrmph, as if you could drive that fast regularly in all kinds of weather in safety, or if you would have air service on something that short. . .

    The opposition is looking sillier and sillier. . .

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    It is to the point where people are fighting back on the comment sections. I think there is more support for this than what the media has been saying and what a few others believe.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I’ve commented before on this being partially a generational issue. Could it be that enough old fogies are expiring or at least going senile that the opposition is literally dying off?

    joe Reply:

    “I’ve commented before on this being partially a generational issue.”

    In as much as riding public transportation has changed since the introduction of ubiquitous wireless.

    As a kid, owning a car was everything … you worked on them, got to 2nd base din them and they gave you independence – a gateway to friends.

    Now there’s texting and phones, surfing and a host of stuff I probably don’t know about. It’s doable on public transportation, not driving a car.

    wu ming Reply:

    it’s not just the gadgets. commuting through gridlock, or driving on long road trips, just isn’t as pleasant as riding on decent rail.

    snogglethorpe Reply:

    In some ways, cars work much better when only a few people have them … when _everybody_ has them, the disadvantages of widespread car ownership show up with a vengeance — but of course by then, it’s very hard to turn back…


    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “It is to the point where people are fighting back on the comment sections.”–political_incorrectness

    And it’s fun to see mostly positive comments on something like a new old trolley in San Diego:

  9. datacruncher
    May 29th, 2011 at 11:52

    CAHSRA has posted updated aerial image maps of the Fresno-Bakersfield route alternatives. The maps show the most recent planned locations of at-grade/elevated/trench, proposed road overpass locations/sizes, other road connectivity proposed, parcel splits/building takings, etc.

    These are the most recent route alternative maps and were displayed at the public meetings in the Valley held 2 weeks ago.

    Downtown Fresno to Hanford map

    Hanford to Shafter map

    Shafter to east of downtown Bakersfield map

    Jack Reply:

    So there not going through the center of Hanford anymore, what are they complaining about then???

    synonymouse Reply:,0,980818.story

    I wonder how many of these cuts will fall to LaHood to implement. Might be seeing Hanford at all on the feds’ dime.

    wu ming Reply:

    wall street will call the GOP’s bluff.

    Eric M Reply:

    The debt ceiling has been raised 50 times in the last 70 years. This is the first time it is really in the public’s eye.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Except when it was in the public’s eye in 1995 and again in 1996.

    Eric M Reply:

    and nothing came about it and it was raised as usual.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Gotta recommend a great film I saw tonite on Netflix streaming, “Battle for Los Angeles”. What’s not to like about a flick about space aliens in huge spaceships performing yeoman urban renewal on LA. And at no cost to the taxpayers. And what do the aliens get for thanks – their mother ship is shot down right on LA. Too bad it did not make it as far as Palmdlale. But then it would not make for very impressive cinema, crashing into a bunch of trailer parks.

  10. D. P. Lubic
    May 29th, 2011 at 12:25

    Poking around in the links at Burrito Justice, I came across this one that might be of interest here:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Burrito Justice has a spoof link on the subject of a transcontinental burrito tunnel, and also an apparent interest in some other infrastructure. I figure he might be interested in this, an underground exploration site in the UK, with a special feature on the Royal Mail Service’s now-abandoned automated underground mail railway.

    Home page:

    The mail rail:

    There are a lot of other sites here in what might be called “industrial archeology.” I can’t say I entirely approve of these activities, some of which are quite dangerous, particularly when it involves going into areas that are restricted for good reason (i.e., active rail lines), but the views are still fascinating and beautiful in a strange way.

  11. D. P. Lubic
    May 29th, 2011 at 15:32
  12. Andre Peretti
    May 29th, 2011 at 16:34

    I think the mother of all problems for HSR, and passenger rail in general in the US, is that it’s part of the right/left divide. In some blogs I can even sense real hatred. It’s a sort of jihad. HSR is unamerican, evil, and socialist. It must be killed.
    This is vey difficult to understand for someone living in France where, apart from hardcore ecologists who want a return to the stone age, HSR enjoys total consensus from the far left to the far right. It’s like running water or electricity: no-one is against it. It’s used by families, commuters and top executives who even have staff meetings on it, en route to some business negotiation.
    Sometimes, I translate tea-party articles about HSR for my friends and they look at me with incredulous eyes.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    You nailed it….

    For hard-core conservatives, HSR and rail travel in general has somehow become synonymous with “collectivism” and a symbol for everything they hate. Apparently the idea is that the personal automobile is the only mode of travel which is compatible with the mythical “rugged individual” image, which is how many of these people seem to imagine themselves (a fiction to be sure, but apparently a very attractive one for them).

    So yeah, it’s more a symbolic issue than a real one (the same people who moan endlessly about rail have few apparent problems with subsidizing highways or spread-out suburbs). Unfortunately symbolic issues can be the most divisive…

    Miles Bader Reply:

    I should note that many of these same people _also_ seem contempuous of walking and bicycle travel, which seems rather illogical to me — how could anything be more individual than those?

    But I suppose that’s because it’s an emotional argument rather than a logical one, and automobiles also feed into illusions of power and self-worth (something the automobile industry has spent vast amounts of money promoting!).

    wu ming Reply:

    it’s because the oil companies are the ones who write those scripts. people are just repeating them as they come down the line, noone’s coming up with this stuff organically, from their experiences. if the talking points ever shift, they forget they ever had opinions on the matter.

    wu ming Reply:

    the thing is, nearly anything can be plugged into that culture war, so it’s not really something worth worrying about.

    joe Reply:

    “This is vey difficult to understand for someone living in France where, apart from hardcore ecologists who want a return to the stone age, HSR enjoys total consensus from the far left to the far right. It’s like running water or electricity:”

    It’s simple. Opposing HSR is about their perception that doing so really pisses off liberals and hippies.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Sometimes, I translate tea-party articles about HSR for my friends and they look at me with incredulous eyes.”–Andre Peretti

    Me too, and I live here, and I even understand it a little as a generational issue. Still. . . (rolls eyes)

  13. D. P. Lubic
    May 29th, 2011 at 17:47
  14. William
    May 29th, 2011 at 20:23

    Some new materials on San Jose station planning:

    Initial planning on the San Jose station:

    4 tracks with 4 platform faces.

    Diridon to Tamien elevated structure planning:

    Personally, the Diridon-Tamien structure would look massive in any options, even the signature design didn’t help with this issue.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Why do they have to make the structures so massive? I think it might require a bit of value engineering for that segment as well.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Why do they have to make the structures so massive?

    Private profit.

    The inmates run the asylum.

    William Reply:

    I presume is to comply with earthquake standard, thus I believe the only way to avoid this massive viaduct over CA87-I280 junction is to expand the existing right-of-way, as with the original preferred alignment.

    Clem Reply:

    It’s only a matter of time before they return to the existing right of way. All these fancy viaducts (and the associated ultra-tight double reverse curve) should eventually succumb to common sense and financial reality.

    Winston Reply:

    So far the tea leaves say you’re right. Look at the now eliminated Fresno viaduct and HSRA’s more modest Fresno station plans for an example of this.

    BTW, the scheduling tool you have on your blog is quite nice. I’ve been playing with it quite a bit.

    Peter Reply:

    That’ll be a fun debate to have. Having sat in on a number of the meetings at the Garder Community Center, there is a LOT of resentment to both Caltrain and the Authority.

    Joey Reply:

    If done right, the ROW doesn’t have to be expanded that much. I would like to reiterate what Richard said a long time ago that the correct solution (assuming Pacheco is inevitable) is eight at-grade platform tracks at Diridon (6 UIC, 2 FRA), and 3 tracks from Diridon to Tamien (2 UIC, shared by HSR and CalTrain (even under the Authority’s bloated 9 tph scenario, this would be sufficient) and 1 FRA). No need for massive structures, no need for unnecessary right-of-way expansion (in fact, 3 tracks could be built within the existing ROW for most of that length).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m pretty sure Diridon needs only 4 UIC tracks and 1 FRA track. The FRA traffic consists of a daily Amtrak train and a few freight trains, and the UIC traffic is limited by capacity between SF and SJ and therefore can’t be too large to need more than 4 tracks.

    Peter Reply:

    FRA traffic is actually one daily Amtrak train, 6 ACE trains a day, plus 14 Capitol Corridor trains a day. Of course, that still doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t need more than 2 tracks for all that…

    Peter Reply:

    Plus some freight trains, of course.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Under Altamont (or even the Altamont overlay), all ACE and CC trains get vaporized. Even under Pacheco without the overlay, which is unlikely to be built, Sac-SJ is faster on HSR with the huge detour than on CC.

    Peter Reply:

    The Altamont overlay will take a LONG time before it’s ever built. And Sac-SJ isn’t exactly the only city pair that’s important to the CC. It’s not an airline, it’s a commuter train. Other important stations are Davis, Oakland, Suisun-Fairfield, Richmond, Martinez.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, Stockton-SJ has the same issue as Sac-SJ. And many of the intermediate pairs will get killed by BART to SJ, which, stupid as it is, is at least non-FRA transportation.

    If they have space for 4 UIC + 2 FRA tracks then they should go ahead, but even in a small crunch, they should go to 4 + 1 and in the unlikely case there’s not enough capacity just cut some CC trains to Oakland.

    William Reply:

    I believe CAHSRA is taking the design philosophy similar to Shinkansen: keep HSR as separate to the conventional lines as possible, only sharing ROW and tracks if absolutely necessary.

    The original preferred alignment calls for two new tracks for HSR only and a realignment of the existing UP & Caltrain tracks, which I believe is better operational wise since it avoid speed & capacity limiting weaving between Caltrain and HSR tracks.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Shinkansen runs on a different track gauge from the Japanese legacy network. CAHSR has no such excuse.

    Joey Reply:

    The plan is still 100% segregated tracks south of Bayshore. While this does improve capacity somewhat (not that it’s needed), it prevents CalTrain from running any expresses. Ever.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    I wonder what’s happening to American construction engineering. The current trend certainly can’t be blamed on a national lack of esthetic traditions. America has built some of the most elegant structures in the world. American engineers even managed to make inherently massive structures look beautiful. The Hoover dam is an example of that, and it is universally considered a work of art.
    Why this esthetic regression?

    Miles Bader Reply:

    I dunno why all the griping … the pics make the structures look fairly utilitarian, not really _ugly_; I can’t say that they really detract from seems to be a boring and forgettable landscape… if anything, they add a bit of visual interest.

    If it were a scenic wilderness, then, yeah, maybe some attention would need to be paid to blending in more — but that’s not what it looks like.

    The NIMBYs, of course, will protest _any change at all_ — even if the existing state is utterly horrible — so there’s not much point in listening to them.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “I wonder what’s happening to American construction engineering. . .Why this esthetic regression?”–Andre Peretti

    Like so much else, I think it’s a combination of things. Part of it was an attempt to get away from the sometimes over-frilly excesses of the Victorian age. Originally, this was a reversion to a classical look, exemplified by Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York, and Washington Union Station in Washington, DC. Later, a more streamlined look came into style, and Hoover Dam and the Empire State Building are examples of this approach.

    What we currently have seems, to my eye, to have come out of a combination of the Modernist of International Style, and a tendency to build things as cheaply as possible (nothing extra for architectural frills). This does not necessarily have to be a bad combination (the bridges cited aren’t terribly bad compared to some other examples), but to do it well and have it look right requires something of an artistic touch, and that seems to be largely missing in modern engineers of today.

    What’s interesting is that purely functional structures can have a beauty of their own; I am always impressed with big steel railroad bridges, and Andre has commented about the bridges of Gustave Eiffel as enhancing the landscape, not harming it. The classic stone bridges of the ancient Romans, reinterpreted for British railways of the 19th century, also enhance the land. The same can be said of the concrete bridges of the Lackawanna.

    There was a time when architecture and civil engineering were taught in the same school, and the two professions were once one. I’m not sure that’s so today. I also am not certain about the talents of a lot of modern architects, who seem to be more about being “Artistic!” and “Edgy!” than being beautiful.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Some examples of “eyesores,” courtesy of the colorful James Howard Kunstler, and boy, does he have some doozies:

    Miles Bader Reply:

    You know, Kunstler deserves respect for what he’s done, but that list of “eyesores” is kind of embarrassing — as horrible as some of the entries are (12 lane local streets?!), there are also a number of pretty cool buildings in there, and others that are simply innocuous. But he dismisses everything with the same snarky bile. AFAICT, he appears to simply hate anything designed after about 1853…

    As big of a problem as unthinking “worship of the new” is, unthinking “hatred of the new” is no better.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Good grief, the supply is inexhaustible!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Coulda been ripped right out of a DL&W brochure

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    What would Gustave Eiffel think?

    “A building with the DTs”

    Are all kids now juvenile delinquents?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Amtrak is not immune:


    What we have lost over the years:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I recall a Canadian lament that the aspirations of Canada once were to amalgamate British politics, French culture, and American know-how. What they wound up with was French politics, American culture, and British know-how.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A “green” parking garage? Is that an oxymoron?

    Who buys these things?

    Who picks the architects?

    Sigh. . .

    Peter Reply:

    So, have they finally ditched the “signature span” for the 280-87 crossing? I’m not seeing it anywhere…

    Otherwise, except for a couple of the drawings, such as at Tamien, they don’t look excessively massive.

    Peter Reply:

    Oh well, it’s still shown in other links. I’m hoping that value engineering will eliminate it, though.

  15. D. P. Lubic
    May 29th, 2011 at 21:26

    Finally found it! Bombardier AGC promotional film. I’d seen this once before, and thought it would be of interest here as to a possible way to market train travel, despite being slightly older (2007?) Of particular note–as is commonly a critique in American advertising–everybody looks too, too good, including the young man in a wheelchair. Of course, the big draw in this ad for red-blooded American males will be those pretty French girls (careful, don’t tell my wife):

    (Link on page below):

  16. Andre Peretti
    May 30th, 2011 at 07:08

    This also illustrates the economies of scale enjoyed by big companies like DB or SNCF.
    All trains have to be more or less customized, with the same costs for tooling, design and testing whatever the size of the order. That makes the big difference: when Amtrak orders a dozen trains, SNCF orders 500 with an option for 300 more, spreading added costs so thin that they become negligible.
    And, of course, a big buyer gets a lot more attention from the builder. Bombardier won’t skimp on quality controls when the customer is DB or SNCF.
    You can now understand why trains are both better built and less expensive in Europe than in the US.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    It also shows the advantages of a modular design (which was the reason Bombardier got the order, and not the “local” manufacturer). And several customers (régions) upgraded their orders from three-element vehicles to four-element, because they were so successful.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes! As I keep telling people, rolling stock is one of the few things New York gets right. Even the FRA-compliant commuter EMUs used by the LIRR and Metro-North are decent, though not good.

    The problem with special American rules is precisely that they prevent smaller cities from capitalizing on these economies of scale. It’s impossible for them to piggyback on a larger order by a European agency the way Ottawa did (it helped that the piggyback order was from Bombardier), and unless they want single-level EMUs, there’s no American agency to piggyback on.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Expect for NJTransit of Quebec otherwise known as Agence Métropolitaine de Transport who piggyback on NJTransit orders. With a little fiddling M8s could be used by SEPTA and MARC. Without any fiddling MBTA could use them. … no technical reason why they couldn’t be used for Grand Central to South Station service, not that anybody would want to spend four hours on an M8. Comets keep popping up here and there in odd places like Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Foamer board scuttlebutt is that they will make their next appearance in San Francisco. If you are going to set out to build a small commuter operation in North American the path of least resistance is “NEC”. There’s nothing horrendously wrong with it, it’s available at decent prices and the FRA won’t complain.
    I suspect that CDOT and MetroNorth are going to use ALP46a and multilevels when there’s capacity at Penn Station to start running to Penn Station. They be able to lease it cheap from NJTransit.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    For reference:

    Kawasaki bilevel cars; click on individual car types for specs

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Another reference item:

  17. D. P. Lubic
    May 30th, 2011 at 08:30

    Off topic as can be, but fun anyway, and might be useful in setting up the menus for the food service:

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